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Billesley Manor and Spa

Billesley Manor Hotel and Spa Shakespeare’s Retreat

Looking for the perfect weekend getaway for literary lovers? Lauren Kate Hughes may just have found it in the Warwickshire countryside…

Looking for the perfect weekend getaway for literary lovers? Lauren Kate Hughes may just have found it in the Warwickshire countryside…

For literary fans, you’d be hard-pushed to find a destination more ideal than picturesque Warwickshire. Billesley Manor Hotel and Spa, nestled in the countryside of this charming county, offers a grand country house retreat that is steeped in history, with Shakespeare’s Stratford-Upon-Avon just three miles away.

The hotel itself has all the hallmarks of a romantic period manor house with its sprawling grounds that feature an 11th-century church and an ornate topiary garden inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s a particularly cosy place to go in the winter – wrap up warm and explore the grounds, safe in the knowledge of the cosy interiors that await back at the hotel.

Inside, the architecture stays true to its Tudor roots with original features and wood panelling. The elegant restaurant has retained its old-world charm; dining here feels like stepping back in time. It’s a refreshingly authentic property; Shakespeare wrote As You Like It on the premises and is thought to have married Anne Hathaway in the adjoining All Saints Church.

Billesley Manor Hotel and Spa

We visited Billesley Manor and Spa on a wintery weekend. Approaching the grand driveway, the impressive manor house looked warm and inviting, with twinkling lights adorning the trees outside. On our arrival, the welcome was just as warm, with friendly front-of-house staff who made us feel at home.

Now at this point, you may think that Billesley Manor is a tad… old-fashioned, but it’s quite the opposite. The property has had a lavish £5.6 million refurbishment, adding luxury touches to this 16th-century hotel.

It’s old-world charm meets top-notch amenities, complete with a relaxing spa area where guests can unwind after a long day’s sightseeing. We lazed by the pool reading idly and excitedly chatting about our evening of theatre ahead – the perfect place to unwind.

A visit to the Stuart restaurant should be on your list for a mini-break at Billesley Manor and Spa, with its impeccably presented dishes and friendly service. I sampled the cured salmon, which came adorned with edible flowers, followed by crispy trout on a bed of creamy mushrooms and fresh greens.

The parmesan potatoes also deserve a moment of appreciation. Afterwards, the snug-like bar is the perfect place to enjoy a nightcap. billesleymanor.com

What to do

Watch a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company

At the top of the list is a visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company, where you can watch a play in one of the country’s most iconic theatres. We braved the rain and ventured into Stratford-Upon-Avon, where the historic theatre takes pride of place in the centre of the bustling town. The beauty of Stratford is that it’s so small it’s easy to get around on foot, so you can walk from several charming pubs and restaurants to the theatre.

We were lucky enough to catch Cowbois in the Swan Theatre, which provided a raucous and surprising evening with its contemporary take on a western from Charlie Josephine. The play depicts a saloon bar in an isolated town, populated with only women (along with the town sheriff) whose husbands joined a gold rush months earlier and haven’t been heard from since.

Then Jack arrives, a handsome outlaw looking for refuge who subverts gender norms, and turns things on their head, making the townspeople question notions around their own identities. Fuelled by strong performances and some great vocal talent, it was a highly enjoyable evening.

Forthcoming shows in Stratford-Upon-Avon include the classic Shakespearean comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Ben and Imo, a powerful new historical play.

The Royal Shakespeare Company also offers shows in London at the iconic Barbican Theatre. Current productions in London include My Neighbour Totoro and Hamnet. You can find out more on the Royal Shakespeare Company website.

Enjoy Stratford’s classic pubs

You know the kind of quintessential British pubs you long for in a world of chain pubs, with roaring fires and friendly faces behind the bar? Stratford-Upon-Avon has them in abundance. Perhaps the most iconic is the Dirty Duck, situated right next to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, the walls are adorned with pictures of the actors who’ve performed at the theatre over the years.

The One Elm offers warming pub classics in a cosy setting; the perfect place to enjoy dinner before a show. If you fancy a spot by the river, Cox’s Yard is a lovely spot to watch the swans glide by.

Take a walk from Stratford to Shottery

The walk from Stratford to Shottery, the small village where Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is the focal point, offers quaint countryside views peppered with thatched roof cottages and pretty pubs. Take the walk along Scholars Lane and then follow the path across to Shottery. The whole circuit only takes an hour so it’s an ideal morning stroll.